A young Kate Wilson aboard her father’s Typhoon

Kate Somers (widely known as Wilson before marrying Brandon Somers) is a lifelong sailor and has morphed sailing and her interest in technology into her own media and web design firm in Rhode Island called risingT.

Coop: Kate, thanks for jamming this into the midst of your work for the Newport Bermuda Race.

Kate: (Flat out like a lizard drinking sigh) Sure, no problem. Thanks.

Coop: Where are you from, and was sailing a “thing” in your
family when you were a kid?

Kate: My dad was in the Navy and my parents met when he was stationed in Newport. We lived in Warwick, on the water. My dad had a Cape Dory Typhoon, and we’d do day trips. I remember most of my “sailing” as going below to play, but years later my parents, laughing, said I immediately fell asleep. Dad was transferred to Hawaii, so off we went.

Coop: Ah, Navy kid, eh?

Kate: Yeah, I sailed a lot at the bases. Then when I got more competitive, there were no Optis so we sailed El Toros. As I speak, I’m looking at my bright yellow El Toro. My parents shipped it back here, and it’s going to be Connor’s [their 2-year-old]. While in Hawaii I met Mark Towill, and grew up sailing with him. I worked for him for years during the Volvo Ocean Race, now The Ocean Race. I’ve known Mark longer than he’s known Charlie [Enright]! We found a photo of us sailing against each other. People remember me because I was the curly red headed girl in an El Toro.

Sailing El Toros in the middle of the Pacific, there was no Vanguard shop down the street. My mast was – is – a spar from a windsurfer. You had to make your own sheaves. I learned a lot about boat work early on. It was just part of a day’s sailing. When my dad retired, we moved back to Rhode Island and I went to The Prout School.

Coop: Wow, small world. You will remember I coach the Prout Sailing Team today.

Kate: I sailed with the Sailing team, and even today I sail with my skipper from Prout.

Coop: Hang on. When was this?

Kate: I graduated Prout in 2004, then went to Hobart & William Smith and joined the dinghy Sailing team. I went to Nationals all four years. Hobart won the Nationals in Texas in 2005. Trivia moment: We won team racing and fleet back-to-back – there were a lot of Prout sailors there at the time. The College Nationals in 2008 were here in Newport.

Coop: Local hero comes home.

Kate: After the 2008 Nationals, I have to say I was burned out. Sailing was not fun anymore; I was just drained by that point. I had taken a year off my junior year and gone to Denmark on a study abroad semester. I figured I’d had eight years of scholastic sailing so I could take one off. After graduation, I moved to Denmark and worked in the study abroad school. I was working in the IT department with college students just a couple years younger than me. I had taken a computer science class and they said, “Oh, you know computers and IT…” I thought, “I can do IT” and heard “job, in Copenhagen” so I said “Yes, please.”

Coop: Any sailing in Paul Elvstrøm’s home turf?

Kate: No sailing there at all. I did take a break and came home and sailed on my dad’s Catalina 36. It was Wednesday racing, and I thought, “Oh, yes. Fun, friends, family – this is why I like sailing. There’s more to this than college dinghy sailing. When the internship was up I moved to Newport, got an apartment, and got back into it.

There was a kind of pick-up team racing in Vanguard 15s at Sail Newport on Tuesdays, and it was a blast. Guys like Pete Levesque, a prominent Tufts Sailor, would come over, take a knife to the mainsail downhaul and say, “Ya gotta get the boltrope tighter.” But as an unemployed Newport Yacht Club member hanging around the docks, I saw the Rogers High School Sailing team out practicing. I asked the coach, Ross Weene, a designer at Rodger Martin Design, if he needed help. He replied, “Sure, we can always use help,” so I started helping coach the team. Eventually Ross stepped back and I took on the job full time. Then I was doing something at URI with the kids there I liked, but a couple of the personnel not so much, so I took a step back and asked myself “What is it you like to do?”

Coop: What do I want to do when I grow up?

Kate: Well, I liked coaching, and I helped Meg Myles (a former US Olympian in the Europe Dinghy and Junior Program Director at Conanicut Yacht Club) start the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation. Meg is now Executive Director of the CISF, and I was the first one to run that camp. The first summer we were trying to just throw things at the wall. We partnered with the Audubon Society, with Save the Bay. We’d sail over to the Bay Campus, go get ice cream, just go sailing. It made me reflect on the whole idea of getting kids to fall in love with sailing before you get into the competition side of it.

CISF got going the year the America’s Cup teams were with the AC 45s. Scott Ferguson, a local designer and skilled sailor, asked me if I could help Oracle USA Team with local logistics, just being that local in town point person.

Coop: That’s kinda fun – the little curly redhead in the yellow El Toro hits the big time.

Kate: Funny sidebar: I was living on a Triton 28 with my boyfriend. I would take the dinghy over to the Fort Adams compound every day. The Oracle guys liked what I was doing, and had done, and asked if I wanted to go to San Francisco and keep going with them. I said, “No, my life here is great. I am a sailing instructor living on a 28-foot boat in the anchorage…” (Somewhere in here she mentioned a Master’s degree.)

Coop: Whoa, back up here. Master’s degree? Where? When? In what?

Kate: I knew I liked coaching, and during my IT internship in Denmark I saw the power of technology. I started looking around and I found that Boston University offered a Master’s in Educational Media and Technology in their School of Education. I applied and was accepted, and I spent two years driving up to BU once a week. I started to realize, and appreciate, the power of media technology in education. I walked away with the idea of using technology as a solution to help people succeed, and it’s one of the reasons I started risingT Media & Marketing. I use technology not only in the educational, classroom environment but with regattas, yacht club events and sailing in general. But I always come back to the why. Why use technology? Because it solves some kind of problem.

Coop: OK, got it. Go on.

Kate: Well, living on a 28-foot boat with a significant other is putting a relationship in a pressure cooker. At the end of that summer, I was homeless and unemployed. I called Oracle and asked, “Is that job still available?” They said, “If you can get here, you can have it.” I got on a plane and went to San Francisco. I had my Captain’s license, and they liked the idea I could drive a RIB with VIPs. There was always some group of people who needed to go out and watch the action. Then I would come back to the base and work on the team’s social media profile, and then the clothing. I basically just kept saying yes to whatever they asked me to do, so it was a serious crash course in that America’s Cup. ■

Look for the second part of Coop’s conversation with Kate in our July edition.

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